winter doldrums

These are lean times for a non-profit game blogger; there’s not a tremendous amount to discuss.

I’ve mostly been playing Old Republic, because what else is there.  I finished Act 1 last Thursday, and was going to write up a post here about it, but work got in the way.  At the time I was going to write it, I’d power-leveled from 32 to 35, but after this weekend my dude is up to level 37.   I’m itching to get the hell off of the planet Taris, which is dreary and dank and not all that much fun to romp around in.  The game hasn’t changed all that much since I finished Act 1’s story; it should feel a bit more open-ended from a story perspective, but I’m still basically staying on one planet until I’m powerful enough to handle my class quest without too much trouble, and then moving on – which is, more or less, what I’d been doing previously.  I am enjoying it as a time-filler, and I’m appreciative that there’s tons of content that I can access without having to rely on strangers, but I must admit that I’m not terribly engrossed in it any more.

Also: lots and lots of new iPhone content.  Most recently, I’ve come under the hypnotic spell of TripleTown (iOS), which is basically a reverse match-3 game crossed with Grow.  You are presented with an 8×8 grid filled with bushes and rocks and such, and your objective is to turn all that stuff into a city:  3 grass squares = 1 bush; 3 bushes = 1 tree; 3 trees = 1 house, etc.  It gets tricky because you need to plan ahead in terms of where your combination will take place; if you put 3 bushes together, you’ll get a tree but only on the square that you touched.  It’s very easy to build the wrong way, in other words.  There are other complications but it’s easier to explain if you just download it for yourself – it’s a free download, actually, although it only comes with around 1500 “turns”.  You’ll quickly get hooked, though, and you won’t have much choice in forking over $4 for unlimited play.  The whole thing is very charming and quirky and ferociously addictive.

My rental copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 should arrive by Thursday, and I guess I’m looking forward to it inasmuch as it’s something new.  I was of mixed opinions regarding FF13.  (To date it’s still the only FF game I’ve played from beginning to end, and I know that’s kind of a blasphemous thing to admit.  If it makes you feel any better, I’ve downloaded FF7, FF8, and FF9 from PSN, and I’ll probably download FF6 at some point, too – and maybe, if you can play PS1 games on a Vita, maybe I’ll end up with a Vita.)  The battle system in FF13 was pretty great, and it certainly looked nice, but it was also completely nonsensical, and while there’s a certain amount of utter nonsense I’m willing to put up with (i.e., MGS4), FF13 required a time investment that was a bit ridiculous.  All the reviews seem to indicate that FF13-2 is a massive apology that fixes everything that was wrong with the first game, plus it’s a bit shorter and maybe not as graphically impressive, and, well, yeah.  As noted above, I’m playing it because it’ll be something new, although I won’t feel guilty if I don’t finish it.

Finally – there will really, honestly, truly be some SFTC podcasts happening up in here soon-ish.  I’ve got theme music picked out and everything, and as soon as I tweak the things that need tweaking and get some schedules squared away, there will be some SFTC in your ears as well as your eyes.  All in time for the apocalypse.

hacked!

I haven’t been doing very much gaming lately – no, not even in Old Republic – so it took me a while to notice that my Gamerscore looked a little off.  I did a little poking around and, lo and behold, my Xbox Live account got hacked, and someone bought almost 3000 Points worth of FIFA12 DLC.  Spoke with customer service this morning, and the short version is that my account will be suspended for around 2 weeks while Microsoft conducts an investigation; when that’s over, my account will be reinstated and I’ll hopefully get my Points refunded.

Kind of a bummer, right?  Not that I’ve been doing a lot of online gaming ever, but still – that’s kind of messed up.

In the meantime, yeah – not a lot of gaming happening.  I’m stuck on a boss in TOR and haven’t felt inclined to grind my way past it.  I’ve mostly been playing the shit out of two iPhone games:  Muffin Knight and Run Roo Run, and if I had the time I’d devote some Subway Gamer columns to them.   They’re both fun, though, is the thing.

I’ve also been continuing to build the hell out of my Tiny Tower; I’m up to 126 floors and the other day I went a little OCD-insane and renamed each business to include the floor number and its number of happy employees.  I did this because, well, when you have 126 floors, finding things is very tedious, and I’ve basically removed the endless searching from the equation.  Now, whenever I move a new bitizen into the building, I can immediately tell if their dream job is available.  I can also tell if I’m able to complete a mission just from seeing the names of the necessary companies.  Again, this is kind of insane, and I’m well aware of that, but, I mean, if you’re similarly addicted to Tiny Tower you would definitely appreciate this kind of insanity.

further adventures on Tattooine

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I was hoping to increase my writing output this year (on this blog, at least).  The problem with that, of course, is that January is generally a dead zone when it comes to new games that need to be talked about.  And it should also be noted that, for whatever reason, I don’t really have a backlog right now.  I suppose I could keep pushing on in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but I don’t hate myself.

Still, though, I have continued to play the hell out of The Old Republic.  I hit level 28 last night, right before I logged off.  And that’s without doing any of the Heroic quests or the Flashpoints; I’ve just been cruising along on all the stuff I can solo.  I’ve developed a series of battle strategies that work for me, more or less – the only times I’ve run into trouble have been against Elite bosses with 10K+ health, because my companion stops healing me after a while and then it’s pretty much a race to see who dies first.

It’s funny – now that the game’s been out for a few weeks, the gaming podcast circuit is starting to talk about it.  And for the most part, everyone seems to be of two minds about it – they’re playing it a lot, but they hate it.   The space combat is stupid (although it’s gorgeous, and it really ought to be an iPad game).  The environments are pretty but also ugly and barren.  The conversations are engaging and well-written and acted but they’re also repetitive, and pressing “1” or “2” isn’t quite the same thing as actively participating in a discussion.  There’s So.  Much.  Running.*

I don’t hate it.  I’m generally pretty wary of MMOs (after having lost around 6 months to WoW), but I find that I’m able to log out of TOR without immediately going through withdrawal.   I go in, I kill some dudes, I craft while I wait for dudes to respawn, I advance my questlines a bit further, and then I log out.  It’s much like any other long-form Bioware RPG, and since Bioware makes great RPGs, that’s good enough for me.  I suppose I could stand for some fat-trimming; I don’t know that this story is so compelling that I need to play it for 100 hours, but that’s what an MMO is, and that’s how it sustains itself, and I’m having a reasonably good enough time (and there’s absolutely nothing else out right now that I’d rather play).

I don’t even mind the space combat stuff.  The thing that everyone seems to forget is that Bioware’s games always have stupid mini-games.  Remember the pod races in the original KoTOR?  Or the planet mining in Mass Effect 1/2?  (I can’t remember if there was one in Jade Empire or not, but I might be the only person on the planet who still likes that game.)  Anyway, the space combat stuff here is a pleasant diversion – it certainly looks amazing on my setup, and it’s an easy way to grind out some quick XP, and it’s only a few minutes long.

If I had one complaint about the game, it’s that there’s not all that much to do.  The entire game is basically 4 steps, repeated infinitely:

  1. Talk to quest-giver, who gives an objective
  2. Go to objective’s location
  3. Kill enemies, achieve objective
  4. Return to quest-giver

Sure, there’s the aforementioned space missions, and there’s also crafting and stuff, but you don’t even need to do that – you send your companions out for that.  And in a way, that’s unfortunate, because those mission descriptions usually involve heists and deceptions and explosive action, which is way more exciting-sounding that the 4 steps listed above; all you do is press a button, and then 5-10 minutes later your minion returns with some loot.  THE END.

I suppose I’d like TOR to have, well, other Star Wars-y stuff to do.  Stuff that doesn’t involve the same sort of combat over and over again – even though the combat is fun in its own rhythmic way.  There’s no sneaking around; there’s no explosive chase sequences; hell, there’s no pod racing.  There’s none of the card or casino games that KOTOR or Mass Effect have, which seems like a missed opportunity.  There’s no real way to interact with other game players except through joining in combat – and I’m not sure that the PvP side of things changes that.  Whether you’re a bounty hunter or a Jedi knight, you are still ultimately doing the same shit – just with different weapons.

In any event, it’s what I’m playing, and it’s what I expect will take up most of my time for the next few weeks.  I’m mildly interested in Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I’m curious about Kingdoms of Amalur, and I’m very hopeful for SSX, but I’m not planning on taking any vacation days until Mass Effect 3 arrives, which isn’t until March.

Bear with me, then, in the meantime, and I’ll do my best to keep things interesting.  Certainly there’s some iPhone stuff to talk about…

 

 

* Justin McElroy (formerly of Joystiq) had some interesting comments about this.   He’d been talking about Saints Row the Third, and how that game’s designers appear to respect the gamer’s time by not making you wait to get fun stuff to play with, and contrasting that with TOR, which (a) makes you run everywhere;  (b)  gives you a “sprint” boost at level 10; and (c) ultimately gives you a mount in your early 20s, which is essentially the game’s designers telling you that they know that walking sucks, but tough shit.

Happy New Year, etc.

I don’t mean to start 2012 on a down note, but here we are.

The main thing on my plate these days is The Old Republic.  My Bounty Hunter/Mercenary is now level 18; I’ve got a bitchin’ spaceship and I’m doling out death and destruction all across the galaxy.  I’m really enjoying my time with it.  As noted the other day, though, my wife is also a full-blown TOR addict; she, in fact, pulled an 11-hour marathon yesterday, which is something that even I haven’t ever done.  She’s having somewhat of a more frustrating time than I am, though, even though she claims she’s still having fun with it.  (I’m definitely going to do a podcast with her in the near future.)

So while she was Jedi-ing yesterday, I was left with my 360.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’m not really into anything at the moment.  As I said last week, I’ve started to sour on Skyrim, which is a bummer.  I finished the Civil War side-quest yesterday – or, at least, I think I did.  Maybe I didn’t.*    The whole thing was unclear, and in any event it was incredibly anti-climactic, riddled with bugs and strangely staged in-game cutscenes where the music was (a) louder than the dialogue, and (b) on an endless loop, which tended to decrease the tension with every subsequent replay.     Now that I’ve beaten the main story, and I’ve discovered most of the stuff that there is to discover, there’s really not a lot pulling me back to the world – it’s certainly not the narrative, which feels positively clunky and dead next to The Old Republic.

I also put some time into the Stranger’s Wrath HD remake on PSN.  The best thing about HD remakes – when they’re done well – is that they don’t diminish your memories of how those games used to look.**  The Oddworld games were always quite pretty, but they were running on primitive hardware (compared to today), and one only needs to look at the PC port that appeared on Steam last year to see how far graphics have come in only 5 or 6 years (or however long it’s been).  The PSN HD remake looks absolutely fantastic – they’ve re-skinned and re-textured pretty much everything, down to the last pixel.  The gameplay is still refreshing and inventive – the live ammo thing is still pretty clever – although the level design feels a bit archaic, with lots of canyons funneling you into small clearings, where the action is.

Finally, I continued to dabble in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which remains profoundly disappointing.  I feel terrible about saying this, but I think I’m gonna trade AssRev in.   I’ve played – and loved – each of the three previous games to death, and yet this game feels totally foreign to me.  The controls are far too complicated – there are two different buttons you need to press just to run – and it’s ridiculous that I’m fighting the controls at this point, being that I’ve already sunk probably 100 hours in the franchise already.  Does that make sense?   I used to know how to kick ass and run around and could stealthily eliminate an entire town square, and now I can’t even figure out how to climb a wall.  It should feel familiar, and instead it feels clunky and overly complicated and – most depressingly – uninspired.  I sincerely hope that the inevitable Assassin’s Creed 3 is more of a re-boot – this franchise needs a kick in the ass.

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*I got the “Hero of Skyrim” achievement for capturing Solitude?  I have a feeling that there’s yet one more piece to that puzzle, involving the Thalmor.

**  Microsoft might not have been wrong when they made the 360 not-totally backwards-compatible – some of those previous-gen games look kinda terrible running on today’s demanding resolution standards.  Just look at the recent iOS port of GTA3 – yeah, it’s great that it’s running on my iPhone, but it also looks kinda old.